Ed Willes: B.C. Lions try to establish a culture of winning

 

 
 
 
 
B.C. Lions quarterback Jonathon Jennings, centre, carries the ball for a first down against the Calgary Stampeders during the first half of a pre-season CFL football game in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday June 17, 2016.
 

B.C. Lions quarterback Jonathon Jennings, centre, carries the ball for a first down against the Calgary Stampeders during the first half of a pre-season CFL football game in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday June 17, 2016.

Photograph by: DARRYL DYCK, Vancouver Sun

More on This Story

 

Wally Buono is a serious man on a serious mission, and in the three weeks of his team’s training camp, the new/old sheriff left little doubt about his goal for the B.C. Lions this season.

He wants to re-establish a culture of winning with the Lions, and he’s only interested in players who’ll help him fulfill that mandate. His message is we’ll win with you or win without you, but this year, we’ll win. And that’s just as true of a preseason game in June as a playoff game in November.

But when Buono talks about winning, he’s not only talking about the results of a football game. After three mostly miserable seasons and three coaching changes, this season is as much about winning back credibility for the Leos, about winning back respect, and about winning back fans and this market.

With their season-opener just six days away, there remains a sense the Lions still have a lot of work to do in those areas, that their fan base needs a reason to believe Buono still has the magic touch. 

They can only do that by winning, and Buono is selling that hope hard. As for the fans, it seems they want more proof they aren’t signing up for another year of mediocrity.

“We’ve said all along we have to win the fans back, but if you watched this game as a fan, you’re not discouraged,” Buono said after the Lions dropped a 31-21 decision to the Calgary Stampeders on Friday night.

“Their third team was better than our third team. Next week (when the Lions open the regular season against the Stamps) it will be the ones (first team) playing against each other. When the two ones were playing, it was a pretty good football game.”

The Lions’ final tune-up, in fact, offered some evidence the team might be on to something. According to the stats’ sheet, Jonathan Jennings was 16-of-20 for 173 yards and a touchdown in his two quarters of work. Travis Lulay also engineered two scoring drives in his quarter-plus stint and had Buono let the veteran finish the game, the outcome might have been different.

That, at least, was the story on the field. But the story in the stands wasn’t quite as encouraging.

The announced attendance was 17,630 and that still didn’t seem like an accurate reflection of the number of bodies in the seats. Sparse would be a more accurate description of the crowd, and that’s going to be an ongoing concern for the organization while this team finds itself.

“We had to play football tonight,” Jennings said. “It was critical for us to come out, do some good things and show people what we’re all about.”

“If we fight like crazy and give ourselves a chance to win every week, we’ll win people over,” said Lulay. “People want to see a hard-nosed competitive team that never quits. That’s who we want to become.”

In the campaign to win back the fans, that would be a good place to start. But in these early days, Lions’ supporters have yet to fully embrace the new/old regime. This week, the organization is planning an aggressive marketing campaign for Saturday’s home-opener and it’s imperative the team do it’s part with a credible performance.

On Friday night they offered glimpses of what could be. Jennings, for the most part, was sharp and new running back Jeremiah Johnson churned out 52 yards on 10 carries behind the revamped offensive line. Repatriated receiver Nick Moore (five catches, 74 yards) also looked like he has some chemistry with Jennings. 

The defence, meanwhile, wasn’t quite as convincing, and there’s some nagging concerns about the health of linebacker Solomon Elimimian. But defence, generally, is usually the least of the Lions’ worries.

Attendance, now that’s a different story.

“To go out there tonight and not get it done, not finish the game, is disappointing,” said defensive back Ryan Phillips. “We have to be better. That’s not the statement we want to leave on the field.

“Teams were scared to come in here years ago. They were intimidated about coming into B.C. Place. Now, I don’t know if that’s necessarily true.”

Buono, for his part, liked a lot of the things he saw, but railed about the weak-kneed effort on special teams. In a 50-50 contest, the Lions got hammered in the return game, and ultimately, that was the biggest difference between the two teams.

“Winning this preseason game wasn’t going to anoint us Grey Cup champions,” said Buono. “But understanding what it takes to win, understanding if you don’t give 100 per cent and play with physicality, you’re not going to win. To me that’s the important lesson.

“We did not play physical enough football. And that costs you victories.”

In the Lions’ case, that will cost a lot more this season.

ewilles@theprovince.com

 
 
 
Font:
 
 
 
 
B.C. Lions quarterback Jonathon Jennings, centre, carries the ball for a first down against the Calgary Stampeders during the first half of a pre-season CFL football game in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday June 17, 2016.
 

B.C. Lions quarterback Jonathon Jennings, centre, carries the ball for a first down against the Calgary Stampeders during the first half of a pre-season CFL football game in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday June 17, 2016.

Photograph by: DARRYL DYCK, Vancouver Sun

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
We encourage all readers to share their views on our articles and blog posts. We are committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion, so we ask you to avoid personal attacks, and please keep your comments relevant and respectful. If you encounter a comment that is abusive, click the "X" in the upper right corner of the comment box to report spam or abuse. We are using Facebook commenting. Visit our FAQ page for more information.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Your voice